By Sarah Fenske
The Arizona Supreme Court declined today to halt the State Bar of Arizona's investigation into Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Facing an investigation into his handling of the New Times case, as well as his showdown with Judge Timothy Ryan last summer, Thomas had claimed that the Bar was on a witch hunt and begged the state's highest court to intervene.
In a three-page document issued today, the court declined.
That means the Bar will be free to pursue its investigation--although, as we reported a few months ago, it will turn the probe over to an independent investigator.
The Bar announced Thursday that the investigator will be Rebecca Albrecht, who was a superior court judge in Maricopa County for 24 years and is currently an attorney with Bowman and Brooke LLP in downtown Phoenix.
Gary L. Stuart, who was with Jennings Strouse for 30 years, will serve as the investigation's probable cause panelist -- meaning he'll determine what evidence Albrecht can gather in her investigation, among other questions.
Both Albrecht and Stuart have good reputations within the legal community -- and neither is known as a lefty. That should help give credibility to an investigation that Thomas and his lawyers have criticized bitterly. (The Bar took its in-house investigator off the probe after Thomas and his lawyers filed their special action with the Supreme Court, complaining about the investigator's tactics.)
The court, however, brushed off Thomas' claims that the investigation needed to be taken out of the Bar's hands entirely.
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"The State Bar has appointed both an independent probable cause panelist (one not a member of the board of governors) and an independent investigator (not employed by the State Bar) ... Mr. Thomas may make any arguments concerning document production or privilege to the new probable cause panelist," Chief Justice Ruth McGregor wrote on the court's behalf.
As we first reported in June, the big question now pending involves Dennis Wilenchik -- Thomas' former boss and the special prosecutor that Thomas hired to investigate New Times, only to fire in the face of public outcry.
Wilenchik, as it turns out, cooperated with the Bar's investigation, answering its questions in responses to ran 63 pages. He also apparently supplied investigators with materials about his time as a special prosecutor. Thomas filed his Hail Mary with the supreme court in a desperate attempt to get those materials sealed, returned, and blocked from use in the Bar's investigation.
Because the Supremes told Thomas to take a hike, how to handle the Wilenchik materials will now be up to Albrecht and Stuart. Unless, of course, Thomas and his lawyers have other ideas on how to halt the investigation. For that, you'll just have to stay tuned.